Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts

Dec 2, 2013

Aaron Nelson: Connectivity @ the Esplanade

Last week I was at the Esplanade art gallery to photograph Aaron Nelson's exhibit, Connectivity. Aaron is a very talented ceramic artist, and the art director of the Shaw International Artist Residency at Medalta. I've had the pleasure of working with him quite a bit this year on several projects, and I was fortunate to see his exhibit take shape from the sidelines while I was busy capturing footage in the residency this fall. 

From photographing the various colours of the ceramic chandelier to shooting a scale video of Aaron sculpting, my last bit of involvement in documenting this project was in finally photographing the completed exhibit. I was really impressed with how well everything came together, and I loved the interactive nature of fusing ceramics with audio, electricity, mobile devices, and the internet. Aaron's exhibit remains at the Esplanade until December 7, and you can read more about it here.

Aug 21, 2013

Paul McCartney Live in Concert: Regina 2013

Attending the Paul McCartney concert on August 14 in Regina, Saskatchewan was nothing short of a dream come true for me. For years I've wanted to make it to one of McCartney's shows, and when it was announced this spring that he'd be coming to Regina for the first time, I knew this was my chance to make it happen. Thankfully, my friend Wendy was just as keen to share the experience with me.

I've been an avid Beatles fan since my early teens, but with the Beatles heyday long before my time, I always viewed a Paul McCartney concert as the closest thing I could get to what one of the Fab 4's concerts would have been like. I bought tickets within minutes of them going on sale, and we ended up really close to the stage (albeit a side view - not that we minded). 

Our view of the concert was actually really good. We were right next to one of the giant screens, we were close enough to actually see Paul in some detail, and our angle allowed us to casually observe the massive crowd - something that was especially enjoyable as Mosaic Stadium became a wash of glowing cell phone screens during renditions of Let it Be and Hey Jude.

Throughout the concert I couldn't help but be reminded of my friend Dave, and how this concert was something that we would have gone to together before he passed away - much like we did when the Rolling Stones came to town. It was fitting then to go with Wendy (Dave's girlfriend) who was happy to reminisce and share her memories of Dave playing the chords to Blackbird (which we both remembered well). As Paul shared a story about the death of John Lennon before singing Here Today, I think Wendy and I both recognized what a profound moment it really was to be sitting in that stadium. 

It's an emotional experience to dream about doing something for so long and then finally having it happen. I don't think I felt this more than when McCartney started singing Hey Jude. Holding my phone to my chest to record while I belted out the lyrics along with the crowd was a truly euphoric moment for me. I kept my phone recording to try and capture the moment for later, but truth be told, I don't think I looked at the screen once during that performance. I was blissfully lost in the music by then.

It was an amazing night, an incredible concert, and I couldn't have shared it with a better person. Having now crossed this off my bucket list, I know this is a memory we'll be talking about for years to come.

I framed the poster I bought at the concert.

Feb 8, 2013

Novelty Camera Case for iPhone

I came upon this rather haphazardly while browsing on eBay, but it got my attention right away.  This novelty iPhone case made by Gizmon is a pretty clever vintage camera lookalike.  You may be thinking that you've seen this before, but it's not simply a picture printed on a standard case.  It's actually an accessory with details and depth.

For starters, the design is really attractive.  The two metal knobs at the top can be taken off and allow you to attach a strap so you can wear it around your neck like a traditional camera.  The buttons on the case still allow you to work the buttons on the side of the iPhone, which is particularly cool when you're taking pictures and can use the trigger button on the case to snap them.  

The product also comes with a small tripod mount that snaps onto the bottom if you're looking to get really serious with you iPhone photography.  Perhaps best of all though, the style doesn't get in the way of practicality or function.  

The case comes with two mock lenses.  A larger novelty one that makes the camera look more mechanical, and a practical flat one.  With the smaller flat lens on, my iPhone still fits comfortably in my pocket (which was my only real concern when I saw this).  The design and build of the case is also pretty solid, so it offers as much protection as any of the other standard ones.  All things considered, I can't think of a case that's more appropriate to my profession or better compliments my love for old cameras. 

Jan 23, 2013

Toy Story (1995)

What is it about Pixar? Is it the characters, the look, the stories? Obviously, it's a combination of all of these things.  Pixar Animation is what the film industry could use more of, and that's exactly what I was thinking ever since I was a kid and first saw, Toy Story (1995) directed by John Lasseter.

It's still amazing to me to think about how computer animation sprung up into the mainstream, created a new visual form of storytelling, and revolutionized the landscape of modern cinema just during my own childhood.  It was clear from that first feature length computer animated film about toys that came to life, that Pixar was on to something that was going to change everything. 

I've got to be honest though, technological innovation aside, at 11 what made the movie resonate was the brilliant cast of toys and how they were personified and crafted into a completely original and imaginative world.  We all used to bring our toys to life when playing with them, and the concept wasn't merely captivating, it was entirely relatable to the kid in all of us.  It's why I still love the movie as an adult, and probably why I appreciate it even more now that I understand the work that's gone into making it.  

It's unbelievably rare for a studio to release success after success as is the case with Pixar.  If it can be attributed to anything, it's that they actually take the time to polish and refine their concepts. Stylistically they continue to push the envelope and tell creative stories full of adventure and heart, which makes it tough to pick a favourite among the bunch.  From toys to cars to monsters and fish, it's like they've found a way to tap into all of these brilliantly thematic worlds and add their own flavors.

I love that Toy Story demonstrates how a movie can appeal to all ages without sacrificing emotional investment.  That originality isn't simply about being different, it's about breathing new life into basic concepts, like friendship and love, when they've become so familiar and exhausted by the same story lines. Pixar seems to understand that a little bit of heart and style can go a long way. 

Pixar has really mastered the art of creating endearing and honest characters.  Buzz and Woody are no doubt at the top of that list, and their rivalry and eventual friendship is born out of a genuine conflict and very real emotions.  The desire to feel wanted and dealing with jealousy have rarely been addressed so powerfully in such an innocent way.

Quite simply, I could watch this movie a hundred more times without getting bored.  I felt bonded to Pixar at an early age, and the quality of their work has maintained my interest all of these years later.  With nods to my childhood and concepts that spark my imagination, films like Toy Story aren't merely for kids, they're genuine classics. 

Dec 4, 2012

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer, fun for all the children call, their favourite time of year.  And what holiday isn't a bit better with Charlie Brown?

Whether you've managed to make the most out of your own Charlie Brown Christmas tree, have fallen for the glitz of commercialism like Snoopy, or have reminded your fellow man what Christmas is all about like Linus did, I think most of us can agree that there's something special about the 1965 television hit A Charlie Brown Christmas. As one of the most memorable Christmas specials of my childhood (not to mention the special that started the series of Peanuts specials) A Charlie Brown Christmas is part of my holiday routine.  I even have the soundtrack along with the original Charlie Brown Christmas on vinyl.

"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!" hollers Charlie Brown, the every-man of holiday depression and sorrow. I always felt sorry for Charlie as a kid. I knew he had it right, and I never understood why the other kids just couldn't cut him any slack. So he didn't get the aluminum tree like Lucy suggested. Even his dog was giving him a hard time. And therein lies the charm of this holiday favourite, because who hasn't felt disenchanted or out of sync with the holidays before?

Charlie's search for answers is full of charm. Lucy, in psychiatry mode suggests, 'maybe you have pantophobia' which she explains is the fear of everything.  'That's it!' Charlie exclaims.  Linus, confused by Charlie's mood states, 'You're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.  Maybe Lucy's right.  Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest'.  Poor Charlie, once again typecast as a downer.

I love the fact that Charlie Brown ends up with the part of the pageant director who can't get anyone to listen.  He's in a prominent position pretty much so he can be walked all over.  Although when your friends can dance like that in repetition, you've kind of already got it made. The kid doing the shoulder shrug back and forth is my favourite. 

There's something truly enlightening about A Charlie Brown Christmas that you can't just find anywhere. I think nostalgia plays into it big time, because I saw it as a kid just like my parents did. Plus, if the cartoon strip isn't iconic enough, the ambient piano and raw recordings of the Vince Guaraldi Trio lends itself perfectly to the whimsy and reflection that Christmas inevitably brings.

Charlie Brown isn't saved by any sweeping miracles or a sleigh full of presents, but his frustration subsides when a series of minor mistakes brings his friends around to see the simpler side of things. In an increasingly cynical world, the message still seems to resonate with heart. It's not what you have, but who you have to share it with.

Sometimes the simplest messages ring the most true.  From Linus, from me, to you, A Charlie Brown Christmas is the perfect reminder for 'what Christmas is all about'.

Nov 6, 2012

Rolling Stones Live in Concert: Regina 2006

After the incredible experience I had had a year before in 2005 by seeing the Rolling Stones in Calgary, it was with the same enthusiasm that I reacted to the news that in October 2006 they would be making their first ever appearance in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The parallels between the spontaneous lead up to the Rolling Stones concert the year before and how the 2006 concert came to happen didn't escape me. Despite my excitement, I accepted early on that I wasn't going to be able to go. Even with the concert in the city where I was going to university, the demand and price of tickets and made it unrealistic for a broke student. I reasoned with myself that I'd seen them once already, and that was nothing to be disappointed about.

As the date of the concert approached, Regina was buzzing. It was on the news every night, papers were counting down the days, and talk around the university continually floated around who was going and how amazing it was going to be. I might have downplayed it in my mind up until then, but who was I kidding? I really wanted to go.

rolling stones regina saskatchewanAnd then the news came in. Due to demand and enough time in their scheduling, the Rolling Stones were going to start selling tickets to a second Regina show. This was clearly a sign, although I was still on the fence about whether I could swing it. I asked my friend Dave, who always seemed willing to indulge my whims, and we kind of talked each other into it. The concert was a go if we could get tickets.

With both shows sold out, it was a little over a week before the concert that I started scouring eBay for tickets. The prices were still incredibly high and I wasn't convinced at that point that things would pan out. The concerts were taking place over the Thanksgiving weekend and I was heading home on the Friday night. It would still be possible to make the Sunday concert, and wouldn't you know it, on the Thursday night some last minute tickets became available.

I bid and won, and in a rare twist, because my purchase came so close to the wire I paid $30 below list price for each ticket. They were overnighted to me, and on Friday I had the two tickets in hand. It was actually going to happen! From there it was a rush trip back to Alberta to see the family for Thanksgiving, and on Sunday morning I was back on the road to make the October 8th Rolling Stones concert at Mosaic Stadium.    

That Sunday afternoon Dave and I met up to have some drinks before joining the crowds surrounding Mosaic. It was an incredible scene. People were selling parking space on their front lawns. Everyone from kids to grandparents were decked out in Rolling Stones gear. I've been to Roughrider games, and even went to the Grey Cup in Regina in 2003, but the vibe surrounding the concert made it feel so much bigger. You could tell even then that the Stones in Regina was momentous as much for its novelty as anything else.

Our seats were in section A7, which looked good when I saw them online, but I really had no idea how amazing they'd turn out to be. As we entered the stadium we passed one checkpoint, then were directed further down through another checkpoint, and then another. We were getting closer and closer to the main stage and it wasn't until we were there that it hit us that section A7, row 5, was actually the fifth row of the concert. We were literally just a few meters from the main stage, and were seated right along a central aisle with an unobstructed view. If the concert wasn't amazing enough, the reality of getting the chance to see the Rolling Stones live again, and from those seats, was an absolutely unforgettable, totally enthralling experience. 

Here's a bit of what I wrote on my old blog after the show in 2006:
The stage was overwhelming (especially from our vantage point) and the lighting, the pyro, and the sound was done to match. The heat from the explosions on the top of the stage was instantly felt. A giant blow up tongue erupting from the centre of the stage was almost as amazing as the final explosion where banners of fabric shot off of the structure and draped the entire frame of the stage. I got a huge rush from the spectacle of it all. While the Stones were on a stage I did a few 360s to take in the sea of people behind us and high up into the stadium who were just as mesmerized and caught up in the excitement. We were loving every minute of it.

What wasn't to love? I'll never forget that concert with Dave.

Oct 25, 2012

Rolling Stones Live in Concert: Calgary 2005

I have seen the Rolling Stones live in concert twice. The first time was in Calgary in 2005, and the second time was in Regina in 2006. Both shows were part of their A Bigger Bang tour, and both times came about in uniquely spontaneous ways. After recently coming across and buying a DVD box set of the Rolling Stones featuring their Bigger Bang tour highlights, all of my memories from those concerts came flooding back and I felt compelled to write them down.

This was my experience leading up to and at the Calgary show on October 28, 2005.

In the fall of 2005 I had just started another semester of film school at the University of Regina. Within the first month of classes I'd been left feeling restless and uninspired due to the fact that it was the first time I had no production courses. Creativity was lacking. All I had were a few electives and a film theory course. In all honesty, I was taking it pretty easy on myself and was simply craving new experiences. Cue Kelly Dodd (AKA Doddsy, as I called her).

Doddsy was a friend who had lived in the dorms next to me the previous year, but she was now attending SAIT in Calgary. It was late October. During a chat with Kelly over messenger (these were the low-tech days before facebook after all) she mentioned how she wanted to go to the Rolling Stones show in Calgary that was happening in 3 days. We entered into one of those conversations full of hypothetical situations where we could do whatever we wanted whenever it suited us. Ah, to be a student again.

We had a good back and forth going when Doddsy admitted that she'd looked into the cost of tickets that were up on eBay. I remember the idea suddenly becoming more tangible and soon we were making deals. I did my best to encourage her to bid, and proposed that if she was able to get the tickets I'd make the 700km+ drive from Regina to come see the show with her that Friday night. As it turned out, we won the auction.

Being a broke student at the time, something I didn't originally admit was that I had actually dropped one of my electives so that I'd have enough cash to make the trip. This was short-sighted, yes, but of all the foolish things I did in university this is one that I'm proud of. I don't remember what the class was that I dropped, but I definitely still remember this concert. On the 27th I was cruising down the Trans-Canada in my old Buick, buzzing about going to see the Rolling Stones.     
The entire experience was a blur just because of how much had happened in 3 days. That Friday, Doddsy and I spent the afternoon in the campus pub at SAIT with a few of her friends to have some drinks before the show. A short train ride later, through a security checkpoint, and there we were sitting in the Saddledome.

calgary rolling stones concert 2005

Here's some of what I wrote just days after the show in 2005. This comes from my old (now defunct) blog:

Sitting, waiting, bored beyond belief, an hour passed by where we had nothing better to do than watch the mish-mash of old and young filter in and find their seats. We were higher up (no pun intended) but were parallel to the side of the stage and had one of the giant screens directly in front of us. Thirty minutes elapsed and I felt my afternoon buzz being replaced by sleepiness. I began thinking I wasn't going to enjoy the show, and for a brief moment I second guessed whether all of the effort had been worth it.
Suddenly the lights began to fade, the screen in front of us burst to life with the Stones logo, and the mumbles throughout the crowd erupted into an eager and instantly awakening cheer that engulfed the entire stadium. This was it, October 28, 2005 at the Rolling Stones concert in Calgary. As the first few chords of Start Me Up echoed towards us, I went from almost falling asleep to nearly pissing my pants. It was so good! 
I won't cover the whole show, and clearly it's not the same anyway, but I came to hear the classics (as most do) and the Stones didn't disappoint. My personal favorites included a soulful rendition of Wild Horses that had the stadium a glow in lighters, and an encore performance of You Can't Always Get What You Want. It's truly something that I'll never forget seeing. 

All these years later, I'm still amazed sometimes by the fact that I made it to that show. The last minute rushing around, the willingness of Kelly to make it happen, and the ultimate payoff of the show being everything we had hoped it would be. All of that just locks the experience in my mind. Little did I know at the time, but less than a year later the opportunity would unexpectedly emerge AGAIN.

Oct 22, 2012

Casino (1995)

If there's one director that seems to know a thing or two about turning stories about mobs into great movies it's Martin Scorsese. Take your pick, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Departed, he even directed the series premiere of Boardwalk Empire. He has done for mob movies what Spielberg's done for aliens, and although there's a tremendous variety in his incredible body of work, I find Casino to be the most endearing of Scorsese's films because of how it portrays such a romantic and realistic view of greed, of Las Vegas, and of success in all of its destructive forms.

I've always loved movies about gambling. Being a broke student for the first part of my life kind of encouraged that fantasy of winning away all my financial troubles and thinking that everything would be solved because of it. At its heart, Casino is about the exact same thing. The mob wants their skim from the casino, the hotel manager (Robert DeNiro) wants to take the gamblers, the gamblers want to take the casino, the girl (Sharon Stone) wants to take the manager to finance her bad habits, the friend (Joe Pesci) wants more than his take from the skim, the government wants their take in taxes, and the chain goes on and on. It's about a love affair with money, and how even with so much around there's never enough to appease anyone.

What makes Casino great is the depth of the story, and how each of the key roles brings a unique and dynamic conflict to the surface. DeNiro's character isn't so much concerned with the mob as he is about running a successful casino. He's talented and smart, and knows how to take advantage of impulsive gamblers. But his trusted friend, played by Pesciis one of those impulsive types and always seems to be on the verge of derailing what DeNiro's established. Then there's Stone, who plays the girl that knows how to get what she wants, and through her that we see what a well oiled machine the Vegas scene is for people who know what they want. 

As if there isn't enough to hold your attention in a story about gangsters, casinos, and crime, it's the fact that this select group of leads is always teetering on the edge of having it all and losing it all. This formula keeps Casino consistently sharp, and much like Scorsese's previous mob hit, Goodfellas, it gives the film a rich array of characters to bounce the action between. 

I love how the politics of Vegas serve as a fitting backdrop, and how winning and losing is expanded to incorporate the evolution of Las Vegas itself. DeNiro as Ace Rothstein (based on the real Frank Rosenthal) narrates at the end of the film, "The town will never be the same. After the Tangiers, the big corporations took it all over. Today it looks like Disneyland. And while the kids play cardboard pirates, Mommy and Daddy drop the house payments and Junior's college money on the poker slots. In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it's like checking into an airport. And if you order room service, you're lucky if you get it by Thursday. Today, it's all gone."

Signed copy of the Casino script at the Mob Museum.

Casino is captivating and beautiful to watch, and sparks the same kind of euphoria and rush as taking a ride down the strip. It's an adventure driven by money, a character piece defined by the worst traits, and an ultimate Scorsese flick that embodies that nostalgic Vegas vibe. I guess in some strange way every tourist still gets a kick out of the idea that Vegas was run by the mob.  Heck, we visited the Mob Museum while we were in Vegas because of it.  In my opinion, Casino is a no-risk gamble.

Oct 11, 2012

Blue Man Group at the Venetian

Having been to Las Vegas a number of times before, I was keen to play it by ear when it came to seeing any shows this time around.  I've seen the Beatles Love Cirque show twice, and so wasn't too concerned with having to see another Cirque performance (which everyone should do at least once in Vegas) this time around either.  What Mike, Erin, and I decided to do was hit up one of those last minute ticket booths that line the strip to see what was available that night.  

Obviously, we ended up seeing the Blue Man Group at the Venetian, which was cool because we actually saw their show on the tail end of their run there.  They're now moving to the Monte Carlo this month, which makes some of the Blue Man Group Venetian swag that I bought seem a bit more significant.

The show was incredible (and surprisingly hilarious)!  It's a mix of multimedia, music, gags, and spectacle.  It's also one of those shows, like Cirque, that you can't fully appreciate without seeing it in a venue that was designed specifically for it.  The paint flinging, the neon tubes, the giant screens, etc. are tough to replicate in the same precise way that they are in Vegas.  This was actually something I heard a lot when the group came to Medicine Hat earlier this year.

It was a lot of fun, and kind of cool to do something like that on the spur of the moment too.  For a guy whose appreciation of the Blue Man Group has come mostly from Arrested Development, I was really impressed.  Now I totally get what Tobias Funke was on about, because "I just blue myself".

Oct 4, 2012

Vdara Las Vegas

Smack dab in the middle of the Las Vegas strip is the brand new, sprawling, but undeniably luxurious City Center complex. Within it you'll find the Shops at Crystals, numerous restaurants, condos, and the luxury hotels Aria, Mandarin Oriental, and Vdara. It was my goal to do Vegas a bit bigger this time around, and so I spent five nights in the five star all-suite, Vdara.

vdara hotel las vegas hotels

I can wholeheartedly say that I really loved staying here. My room was on the 50th floor and had stunning views of the south strip, including the Luxor pyramid, Mandalay Bay, and with the mountains. Vdara is a no-casino hotel, which I found to be a plus despite my intention to gamble. The lack of casino made for a more relaxed environment, and a far less crowded or muddled layout as far as the lobby was concerned. Accessing the strip (or neighbouring casinos at the connected Bellagio or Aria) was just a short walk away.

My room was brilliant (as was Mike and Erin's on the other side of the tower). I had three giant windows with automatic shades, a stunning view, a large bathroom with a separate shower and tub, a small kitchen and dining area, and a spacious sitting area. The room even had a cool doorbell and electronic do not disturb light. It was an extremely comfortable and quiet place to come back to after a long day and the bed was top-notch (even for a quick jump).

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Vdara isn't really in the heart of the action, but that's kind of what made it for me. I still felt close to everything on the strip, but the location at the back of the City Center complex made the hotel feel more private. I also found the maid service to be particularly good. Every evening when I returned my razor and toiletries were nicely laid out for me on the vanity, and extra care was even taken to roll up my laptop chord or chargers when I left them out.

I'd stay here again if I weren't so intent on trying a different hotel each time I go to Las Vegas, but I can certainly say that despite lacking a novelty theme, Vdara easily out-shined past stays at Circus Circus, MGM Grand, Harrah's, and the Plaza downtown. It's a polished and posh hub just steps away from all of the chaos and energy that make Vegas so much fun.

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